indie author

How I Made It Onto the Best Sellers List – And You Can Too

Learn how indie author Kim Catanzarite designed her book listing to hit the Amazon ranks

Kim Catanzarite is the author of The Jovian Duology, a self-published two-book series that’s a love story in a sci-fi thriller narrative. Book 1, They Will Be Coming for Us, marked her first dalliance into self-publishing. She’s also an editor for publishers and independent authors, an instructor for Writer’s Digest University, and a blogger who shares all she knows about self-publishing and writing craft (visit her blog).

Kim has taken writing seriously since she enrolled in her first college writing workshop. After she completed a novel-length manuscript at the age of twenty-eight, she acquired an agent but didn’t find a buyer for it. She moved on, wrote another book, and then another one. In the meantime, she published short stories and won a few contests. Friends encouraged her to self-publish, but she resolved to do it the old-fashioned way—to earn a place on a publisher’s list.

Then she and her husband adopted an infant, and her writing life took a back seat for several years.

Fast forward to the pandemic when “Why not self-publish?” became a more viable question. Her novel-in-progress had done well in contests, received praise from readers she didn’t know, and seemed a good candidate for finding a market. Knowing how long the traditional publishing route would take (two-plus years if all went smoothly), she decided to take things into her own hands.  

“Self-publishing was a leap of faith I took because I love my books and my writing life,” says Kim. “My strategy was, and still is, to do whatever the traditional publishers do. Being a developmental and copyeditor, I know how to prepare a book for publication, and I continue to learn how to market it. When I started, I didn’t have much of a following, but I began building one in earnest as soon as the decision was made.”

She says self-publishing has been gratifying. “When you finally get to show everyone what you’ve been doing all those years you’ve been honing your craft—and you hear them say they loved the book, and ask when the next one is coming out—you just fill up with pride.”

And then there are other exciting things that happen on occasion, such as winning an award, having a booth at a book festival, or appearing on an Amazon Best Seller List, all of which Kim has done. The following is a guest post she wrote with the intent of helping other writers do the same.

How I Made It Onto the Best Sellers List - And You Can Too

Cue the confetti. This past fall, They Will Be Coming for Us appeared on (one of) Amazon’s Best Seller lists. I say this with a fair amount of levity considering there are many subgenres in which Amazon booksellers can appear, and therefore many, many Amazon Best Seller lists. But don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty excited to have reached #51 in Genetic Engineering Science Fiction, and I’ve taken a screenshot to prove it!

So, how does something like this happen? And what can you do to get on that Top 100 list?

First, “the basics” must be in place. The basics are the following:

1.) A strong, professional cover. You can’t get around it, the cover must demonstrate a fairly high level of professionalism. If it doesn’t, book buyers may assume that what’s inside the cover isn’t professional (or good) either.

2.) An enticing blurb. The sales description is the second most important thing necessary for “selling” readers on your book. Don’t forget, readers have literally millions of choices when it comes to buying, so your book has to entice in some way.

3.) A decent number of reviews (at least ten, but twenty-five is better) and a good average star rating. On Amazon, a three-star review expresses some disappointment in the product, so an average of four stars or better will fare best.

4.) An “extra” such as being able to say you’re an “award winner” or having an awesome blurb from a fairly well-known writer or a stellar pull-quote from a five-star review isn’t necessary but certainly doesn’t hurt.

With the basics in place, you can begin to plan your book’s ascent in the ranks.

Disclaimer: I’m going to share what I did, but of course it’s not a guarantee or a “formula” that will necessarily work for every book out there. As we all know, every book is different.

Set Price

First, you’ll lower your book’s digital price to 99 cents or Free. Do this at least a day or two before the sale. I lowered mine to 99 cents. I have never done a Free book promo, but it’s well-known amongst indie authors that if you do one, it will get many, many downloads (if you promote it). Suffice it to say, there are plenty of readers out there willing to download just about any Free book. And, yes, your book will climb the “Free” Amazon ranks and you may even reach number one. Once the Free promotion ends, your book will be ranked according to its sales ranking.

Promotion

First, you offer your book at a discount, and then you promote that sale. You have to do some kind of advertising because otherwise how will readers find your book? I used e-newsletter promos to get the word out (click here to read more about them). That’s where a company sends out a list of deeply discounted books to its large number of subscribers (tens of thousands or more). Prices are broken out according to genre. In this case, I used BookSends ($60) and Ereader News Today/ENT ($50). I had wanted to use three companies, but I was late in setting up this promo and ended up with only two. They were scheduled for the week before Thanksgiving. I figured a lot of people would be on the computer looking for pre-Black Friday sales and maybe that would increase the number who would check (and open/read) their email those days.

Algorithm

If you’ve been selling on Amazon for a little while, you know something about its ranking system and how your book’s position rises and falls. If you want to catch the “eye” of the algorithm (meaning, get Amazon to notice your book and to start putting it in front of customers), you need to start selling. Not just one here and there, but a few every day for a few days. If the algorithm sees that you’ve sold one book on Monday and five on Tuesday and ten on Wednesday, it will take notice. Your ranking will get better each day. If this upward rise in sales continues for a few days, Amazon will assume that you have a desirable product and should start to recommend it.

Sales are not the only things that affect your ranking. Reviews that your book receives and Kindle Unlimited reads help as well. All of these things feed into the mathematical equation that calculates your ranking in some way that Amazon does not reveal.

Knowing this, I decided to ask a few people who read my book but hadn’t yet left a review if they would mind doing so before my promos occurred. I just gave them a nudge, and two out of three people I contacted came through. So right before my promos took place, I received two new reviews.

Next, the promos themselves. From past experience, I knew that BookSends would result in fewer sales than ENT. So I scheduled BookSends for Monday and ENT for Tuesday. If I’d used three promotions, I’d have scheduled it before ENT as well because in the past ENT sold more books for me than other promos had. Looking back, I think I should have put a day in between the two promos to spread them out a bit.

 Meanwhile, I posted about the sale on Instagram and to my (small) following on Facebook.

The End Results

Ten to 20 sales from BookSends and 43 to 53 sales from ENT. I’m not sure of the exact number for each because while I can see sales and the days upon which they occur, the two promos ran back-to-back so it’s difficult to decipher which sales came as a result of which promo.

The good news didn’t end with those sales. As soon as the promos ran, I started getting Kindle Unlimited reads. The day after the two promos occurred, I sold four more books and the following day, four more. I’ve also sold a few solitary books in the days since, and Kindle Unlimited reads continue to add up over a week later

So, yes, this was enough for They Will Be Coming to reach the Top 100 sales ranking in Genetic Engineering Science Fiction subgenre, and 6,200 in ebooks overall. Woot!

No, my life as an author has not drastically changed. However, it was fun to watch the ascent, and it’s great to know people out there are reading the book. With each promotion I do, I feel as if They Will Be Coming gains a bit of traction. It’s my first novel, so my goal is simply to get the book out there, to build a following as a writer, to have people become familiar with my name and my work. In addition, my hope is that some of these readers will leave me a positive review and want to read Book 2, Jovian Son, which I released last month.

Becoming a successful indie author is a marathon made up of many, many small steps. This has been one of the more memorable of those I’ve taken.

Kim Catanzarite is a writer, freelance editor, and an instructor for Writer’s Digest University. Her duology, The Jovian Duology, published to strong positive reviews. Kim blogs about self-publishing and writing craft. To learn more, visit www.AuthorKimCatanzarite.com.

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